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Propelling quantum research across continents

October 19, 2022 | Julie Robert

Update : October 19, 2022

A project led by Professor Roberto Morandotti receives nearly $2 million from NSERC to create an intercontinental network for quantum communication.

Image: Adobe Stock

Quantum entanglement is a phenomenon that fascinates scientists around the world. The very idea that two particles are intimately bound together and that a change of state in one instantly causes a change in the other, even if they are millions of light years apart, remains intriguing. This action, once described by the theoretical physicist Albert Einstein as “spooky action at a distance”, is now the basis for futuristic applications in information processing and detection.

Entangled photons have already been successfully exchanged over short distances in various experiments using free beams in the air or via optical fibres laid in the ground. However, the exchange over longer distances still presents technological challenges. The solution: the direct exchange of entangled photons in space via optical satellite links.

A team of scientists from Canada and Europe has set the ambitious goal of making this exchange a success. The HyperSpace project is the result of this strategic collaboration and aims to develop a quantum communication network between continents. Led by Professor Roberto Morandotti of the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), the project focuses on research in integrated quantum photonics and optical space communications. It is co-funded by the European Commission (within the Horizon Europe program) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) for the amount of $1,918,170 over three years.

“This international project will allow us to study the distribution of complex (high-dimensional) entangled photons via satellite, the first time this has ever been done! I thank NSERC and the European Commission for supporting our work. This collaboration will allow us to take quantum communication research to a whole new level and to solve together technological challenges whose results will benefit society.”

Roberto Morandotti, Canadian academic lead

Distribution of entangled photons in space  

The overarching goal of HyperSpace is to further develop satellite-based quantum communications by appropriate experiments into scalable global quantum networks.

This global quantum network will interconnect a wide range of quantum processors using a variety of quantum channels, just as in the conventional Internet.

To facilitate deployment on scalable small satellites, the team seeks not only to develop new protocols based on quantum hyperentanglement, but also to transfer these protocols into scalable photonic integration platforms.

Applications of HyperSpace in the field of information technology and sensors will be extensive. For instance, a global quantum internet will enable significantly improved applications, such as more accurate clock synchronization, highly efficient cloud information, or even highly secure data transmission through quantum cryptography that relies on physics. Some of these applications were previously not imaginable.

“Professor Morandotti and his team are, once again, part of a very promising initiative for INRS and for Québec, in a sector experiencing rapid growth. Multi-sectoral collaborations are essential to the development of solutions for today’s global challenges.”

Luc-Alain Giraldeau, Chief Executive Officer of INRS  

Close collaboration between Canada and the EU  

A total of eight partners from Europe and Canada are involved in the HYPER entanglement in SPACE (HyperSpace). In addition to INRS, the University of Toronto, and the University of Waterloo (Canada), other partners include the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering IOF (Germany), the Università degli Studi di Pavia and the Università degli Studi di Padova (Italy), the Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives CEA-LETI (France), and the Vienna University of Technology (Austria). The European coordinator of the project is the Fraunhofer IOF.

This project is part of a larger funding initiative of three research and innovation projects, from the EU and Canada, to support fundamental research in quantum technologies. The three projects will share grants worth a total of about €4 million from the EU and nearly $5 million from NSERC. The announcement was made in early October.

World-leading European and Canadian research teams will leverage quantum technologies to jointly develop solutions that will benefit both the EU and Canada. Members will be able to address a variety of technological and societal problems that they could not solve separately.

“Canada’s quantum researchers are globally recognized, and this opportunity to connect with their peers in Europe is based on years of collaboration and innovation. These new projects in quantum detection, communication, and computing will expand the limits of current technologies and pave the way for discoveries and advances in the field. I am very pleased to contribute to launching these research projects and look forward to future collaborations with our European partners,” says Alejandro Adem, President of NSERC.

“What makes this project so great is the value added by the intersection of complementary research fields. Close collaboration at several levels will facilitate and encourage faster knowledge sharing,” adds Professor Morandotti.